An uncomfortably timely – and visually excellent – bio-terror film that reminds us Mother Nature is always in charge.
In 1909, music hall singer Mark Sheridan delightfully serenaded: “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” Director Jeffrey A. Brown has gone out to prove him wrong with a confident debut that follows a college couple – aspiring astrobiologist Emily (Liana Liberato) and her slappable beau Randall (Noah Le Gros) – as they arrive to their remote Cape Cod getaway. They end up unexpectedly sharing the titular beach house with an older couple – Jane (Maryann Nagel) and Mitch (Jake Weber) – who are friends of Randall’s father. Things take a turn from awkward to ominous when a strange fluorescent evening mist emanates from the ocean and the neighbouring foliage, and viscous material begins to trickle out of the faucets.
The Beach House is a promising calling card for first-time writer/director, who skilfully fashions a taut, low-budget variation on The Mist that registers on both an intimate and cosmically grand scale. Brown excels when it comes to installing an eerie sense of Lovecraftian dread inside a low-key contagion survival movie, and shrewdly avoids contrived explanations by leaving certain questions unanswered.
Despite being filmed before the coronavirus hit, his debut feature is an impressively timely virus chiller that banishes jump scares and relies on a series of excellently framed sequences, proving that sometimes less is definitely more. Two scenes in particular, featuring a restrained but effectively wince-inducing body-horror sequence and a daytime swim in the ocean that goes from gentle to unsettling in the most memorable of ways, neatly encompass the film’s main thematic strand: despite our arrogance, Mother Nature can reclaim its dominion over humanity whenever she damn well pleases, and we’d be clueless as to the ‘how’ of the invasion. And powerless to stop her.
Where the movie stumbles is the script, specifically the characterisation of the uninspiring central protagonists. Liana Liberato fares much better than her arse-paralyzingly bland co-star Noah Le Gros, and what little clunky dialogue they share is noticeably weaker than the directorial flair on show. Still, while it has its fair share of shortcomings, The Beach House boasts enough visually slick moments to make it an uncomfortably timely bio-terror for these current pandemic times, as well as food for thought for anyone who still thinks the beach-fancying Mark Sheridan was onto something.
The Beach House / Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown (US 2020), with Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Maryann Nagel, Jake Weber. Starts October 22.